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On the confederate side, only mounted commanders fought wearing suits of armour. They wore three-quarters armour that protected the torso and thighs and weighed around 10 kg. This meant that fighting on foot was also possible. The French, on the other hand, were well-coordinated and employed a combination of artillery, infantry and cavalry.
Three-quarters armour, 15th/16th century, Germany. Forged iron. Museum Altes Zeughaus, Solothurn. © Swiss National Museum.
Swiss supreme command
The confederate campaign against Pavia in spring 1512 was conducted under the supreme command of Ulrich von Hohensax. His 20,000 foot soldiers ousted the French from Pavia and thus from the Duchy of Milan.
Stained glass coat of arms of Ulrich von Hohensax, 1507, Rathaus Lachen. Painted glass. © Swiss National Museum, on permanent loan from the Gottfried Keller-Stiftung.
Pope Julius II presented the Confederation with a consecrated sword. It was the first time that such a gift was not given to an individual such as a prince or a commander. The oak leaves on the hilt denote the coat of arms of Rovere, the family of the Pope.
Ceremonial sword with sheath, 1512, Domenico di Sutti, Rome. Gilded and enamelled silver. © Swiss National Museum.
The Swiss dagger of the 16th century was a luxury item. Renowned artists created designs for ornate sheaths. The dance of death design, from Holbein’s workshop, elevated the status of the mercenary’s weapon to that of an artwork.
Dance of death dagger sheath design, around 1520, School of Hans Holbein the Younger, Basel. © Swiss National Museum
Musketmen carried their gunpowder in a horn. This example has been carved with a death scene. The skeleton and hourglass serve as a memento mori, a reminder that death lurks everywhere and can strike at any time.
Powder horn, 16th century, Rheinau Abbey. Buckhorn. © Swiss National Museum.
Leisure time in the military camp
Card games had been around for a long time, but now the rules were reinvented. In the military camps of around 1500, the Jack (in German “Bauer”, i.e. peasant) was raised in value so that it could trump the King. The social hierarchy was thereby symbolically turned upside down.
Swiss playing cards, around 1500, Basel. Paper. Museum zu Allerheiligen, Schaffhausen / Swiss National Museum / Stadtarchiv Schaffhausen.
Supplying mercenaries to all sides exacerbated tensions within the Confederation. Declarations of neutrality acted as a cement that held the country together. The cunning fox distanced itself from the warring lions.
Stove tile for Zürcher Rathaus (‘Zurich town hall’), 1698, David II. Pfau, Winterthur. Repro. © Swiss National Museum.
Key visual of the 1515 Marignano exhibition. Illustration by Roli Hofer, created from elements of ‘The Retreat from Marignano’ by Ferdinand Hodler. © Swiss National Museum.